It started in winter 2004 when Janet Wards 15-month-old son, Peyton, was diagnosed with pervasive delayed development, a condition that falls on the spectrum of autism.
There was nothing in Middle Georgia for families -- or for me -- to turn to another parent and say, I need help, Ward said in a recent interview. I needed somebody to talk to. ... I was told I needed to go to Emory.
When a parent gets a diagnosis of autism, or sensory processing disorder or pervasive delayed development and your child is not able to communicate with you to tell you they need a sip of milk or a cup of water, its hard ... you dont know what to do, Ward said.
The sense of helplessness for families with a newly diagnosed child compelled Ward to make a change here. The pediatrician who diagnosed Peyton gave her the name of another local parent who was raising a child with autism. It turned out the person he connected her with, Lisa Duckworth, was a classmate from her Peach County High School graduating class 20 years ago.
We knew each other in passing, Ward said. Their lives certainly came full circle a couple of decades later through their children.
I called her and that was the birth of Central Georgia Autism, Ward said.
What started as two women supporting each other grew into a nonprofit organization helping dozens of local families.
In a milestone first for Central Georgia Autism, last year the group raised $12,272 to provide 25 $500 scholarships for families to receive crucial services and support for their children.
The milestones will continue for the organization at 8 a.m. Saturday with the inaugural Journey Ride for Autism, hosted by Macon-based cycling team Big Ring Racing.
Rides will start at Lake Tobesofkees Sandy Beach Park with three distances, 33, 63 and 100 miles.
Big Ring Racings John Eddlemon, who is organizing the ride, said hes anticipating 150 participants. The event will feature a day of other family-friendly activities other than the ride, such as a bike rodeo for kids and other festivities.
Our goal is for this to become the premiere charity ride in central Georgia for years to come, said Eddlemon, who praised Ward for her commitment to families.
Shes been a pleasure to work with. Shes the most passionate person Ive had the pleasure to work with, Eddlemon said.
Times have improved in Middle Georgia since Central Georgia Autism was created. Local hospitals now provide a good level of support to families.
The community has given back, Ward said about the support her group has received from area businesses. Theyre hearing about us. ... Theyre giving back to us. Small-business owners are just saying, Hey, we got to help you guys.
Organizers hope Saturdays ride will go a long way to help Central Georgia Autism with its goal to double the number of scholarships for families this year.
The group has come a long way since 2004, Ward said, with much of the credit going to its board of directors and community and all credit to God.
To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.